We left Pompeii slowly because the sun had set, and at one point, we used our cellphones as flashlights. If anyone thought it was hard pushing me in the wheelchair during the day, this became almost impossible at night. We finally made it out a bit after they'd closed and apologized profusely in Italian for being the last people to leave.
The guard waved kindly. "Stai bene," she said (you're okay). Then the woman grinned as if understanding how life-changing Pompeii can be.
"We might miss the train," Mike said. Almost immediately, he and the kids started running uphill toward the station. Mike pushed me so quickly, amazing me with his resolution, and I glanced back, wishing we could camp amidst the ruins and just soak in the beauty of the star-filled night.
"It's gone." Mike huffed when we reached the top of the hill. "I just watched it leave." He seemed so deflated as he hunched over and placed his hands on his knees, breathing hard. "Another train will come, but we'll have to wait hours."
The kids didn't complain, but they did seem disappointed. "Is there anything else we can do?" Ruby asked. "Could we try for a cab ... or something?"
I checked my phone, but I didn't have service, and no one else seemed to be around the station except our family.
"There is another train," Mike said after a minute, "I know how to get there ... but it's over 10 miles away."
My eyes widened, and that's when Ruby took the opportunity to really shine.
Ruby is my oldest daughter, so strong and hardworking. When she gets it into her mind to do something, that kid will move mountains just to accomplish her goals. I still remember when she told us she wanted to become a tattoo artist. She was only 17, and I didn't expect her to devote her heart and soul to it for years, sometimes spending over 80 hours a week working at the shop and drawing samples for clients at home. That kid is unstoppable, headstrong, and ... likable. We always say she's such a heartbreaker that we don't worry about her when she dates someone; we worry about the people she brings home. She's just "that girl."
Anyway, as Mike told us our options, I watched Ruby's mind whir. "We can do this!" she told her siblings like a reincarnation of Joan of Arc. "Do you want to sit here for hours? Or do you want to run through the city with me and catch that other train?"
I still don't know how she did it, but everyone jumped on board, thinking that running 10 miles was a grand idea. And, after a moment, we rushed through the streets leading to Sorrento. This might sound straightforward, but the wheelchair started rocking as everyone shoved me along. I began thinking of it as a poorly constructed plane or rocket that can't withstand lightning speed.
The kids got tired after several miles. Shocker. I couldn't believe they'd made so far. "Elisa, how close are we?" Mike asked.
I pulled out my calculator and figured the distance with an average of under 3 miles an hour. "Well, if you stay at this pace, you might make it to the train station with 6 minutes to spare. We're only a few miles away."
"Kids!" Mike hollered. "Skip. Let's all skip."
"Yes." Ruby nodded. "Skip!"
And everyone did! With Ruby in the lead--the Pied Piper of Sorrento, I'm sure the locals thought we were half-mad, five frantic people skipping and sporadically pushing a redhead in a wheelchair.
"It's ... so ... beautiful," my words came out joltingly because that's what it feels like when someone skips and pushes you at the speed of light. But Sorrento WAS glorious--so much prettier and down-to-earth than I would've ever imagined. It's not too far from where my mother's family lived in Italy before they came to America, and it felt surreal seeing it at night with all of the nightlife and everyone laughing right after we'd pondered death at Pompeii: the perfect dichotomy.
Emotions overcame me as I gazed back at my skipping children and my husband, who has stood by me through so much more than cancer ... He's held my hair as I've thrown up in the toilet after treatments. He's rubbed my feet when I've suffered the kind of pain I only knew from childbirth--it's the devastation cancer wreaks when it's gone into your bones and eaten your nerves. He's stayed with me through bad choices, crying fits, and so much more. But seeing his joy as he skipped and looked at every one of our kids--and then down at me--that joy moved me to tears.
Ruby continued on, courageously leading everyone in a place so close to where our ancestors hailed from, and somehow, I felt that if they could see us, they would be proud.
We did actually make it to the train with only a couple of minutes to spare, and all of the kids acted as if they'd just won the Olympics. A couple of passengers stared at us quizzically, and we could not stop laughing.
"This might be my new favorite memory," Trey said, "skipping through Italy to catch a train."
"Mama, you're right." Indy took a bite of a complimentary cracker a train attendant had given her. "Sometimes bad things can turn good if we just look hard enough."
I hugged Indy and winked at Ruby. In that moment, my heart just felt full to the brim.